Paul J. Hang

Snowdrops have been revealed now that raindrops and warmer temperatures have arrived. They were waiting there under the snow. Every year, they surprise me. Can we hope that there will be no more snow drops? We can hope.

Maybe we can have that best of snow when everything turns white but the roads remain clear and dry. Just one more snow, that doesn’t need shoveling; one more to enjoy, appreciate and remember fondly for the rest of the year.

March is so unpredictable and unsettled. It is the adolescence of the year. A period we live through, thrilling at times, glad when it is over. A wag once said, ”March is how we get from February to April.” March first is the beginning of meteorological spring. It’s like waiting for your 21st birthday. It takes forever and then, before you know it, it is here. True, astronomical spring won’t arrive until March 20.

Last March, my column was about the pandemic and how planting a garden would be a good way to spend our time. The pandemic is still here and it is still a good time to plant a garden. It seems that a lot of people took my advice because seeds and gardening supplies sold out. It will probably be the same this year so get your orders in right away.

Buds are visibly swelling on some trees and shrubs; sap is beginning to run in the circulatory systems of trees and some politicians. Daylight savings time begins soon. Crocuses will bloom and daffodils. Tulips will continue to push up promising blooms in April or sooner. St. Patrick’s Day promises that all of nature will soon be wearin’ o’ the green. For now, the only green to be seen will be the beer.

March is also the beginning of the season when the door-to-door tree “trimmers” will offer to “prune” your trees cheap. Topping trees is not good pruning. For information about caring for your trees, go to www.arborday.org and www.treecaretips.org.

For a list of certified arborists, go to www.isa-arbor.com. Your trees are a valuable asset to your property, to our community and to our environment. The City of Circleville has a Comprehensive Tree Plan. You can find it at ci.circleville.oh.us, in the search box, type “Tree Plan.” There you will find lots of information on trees and regulations for public trees that belong to all of us.

Things to do in the garden:

If you feed the birds, don’t stop now. March and April are the toughest months for them. Food is scarce. New fruits, insects and seeds are a long way off and the old ones have been eaten. March is also time to clean out bird houses and ready for the nesting season.

Begin fertilizing houseplants with a weak solution. Now is a good time to propagate houseplants. March is not too late to try winter sowing. What is winter sowing? Google “winter sowing” for more information. Have your soil tested. Materials and directions are normally available at the OSU Extension Office.

The last average frost date here in zone 6 is April 23. A number of seeds should be started this month. Check your seed packet for the number of days to harvest and count back to the date you want to plant your seeds or set out your plants. The last average frost date means there is a 50-50 chance of frost on that date. That’s the same odds as flipping a coin. A word to the wise, don’t set out your plants too early unless you are prepared to protect them should the odds work against you. The old rule of Memorial Day is the safest for tender plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

Start your seeds indoors for hardy plants (beets ((yes you can)), broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, onions, garlic, leeks and shallots). You can set them out later mid-month weather permitting. Wait till later in the month to start the half-hardy plants like tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, unless you are prepared to transplant to a larger container.

Most flower seeds, annuals or perennials, can also be started. Always check the seed envelope for planting information. Once the soil can be worked (see below) plant lettuce, spinach, kale, peas, beets, carrots, chard, collards and radish seeds directly into the soil. Onion sets and potatoes can be planted directly into the soil.

Rake the lawn to remove the twigs, leaves and other winter detritus. Dig out those biennial weeds before they get established. Now is a good time to plant trees and shrubs and bare root roses. The earlier you transplant perennials, the better they will do. When is the soil ready to be worked? Soil that sticks to your spade is too wet to work and will be compacted. Make a ball of soil and drop it. If it crumbles it is ready to work.

Before those buds break, spray fruit trees with dormant oil. Read the directions. Prune damaged, diseased and dead limbs. Also, prune those limbs that grow inward, suckers and water sprouts. Do not remove more than a third of the tree. Prune deciduous trees and shrubs that bloom in the summer. Prune spring flowering trees and shrubs after they bloom. Prune raspberry canes and grapevines and fall flowering clematis.

If you cut back perennials and ornamental grasses (tying up the grasses before cutting them back to about six inches saves a lot of clean up), don’t throw them in the trash or onto the compost pile. Store them until we have a few warm days to give overwintering insects a chance to emerge. Pull back mulch from around perennials on warm days but be prepared to cover them back up if a hard freeze threatens.

Late March and April is the time to apply a pre-emergent to the lawn to prevent crabgrass. The best indicator for this is the first bloom of Callery Pear. But be forewarned, most pre-emergents prevent seeds from sprouting. Apply pre-emergent on a calm day.

There are now selective pre-emergent that do not affect grass seed. If you plan to seed any parts of your lawn, don’t apply a non-selective to those areas. This warning also applies to areas where you plan to plant vegetables and flowers by directly seeding in the soil. A light fertilization of the lawn is all you’ll need.

This article was written by Paul J. Hang to be published in The Circleville Herald. Hang is an OSU Extension Master Gardener. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.

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